Update on Our Conference Mission Work
So that our readers are kept up to date on our mission endeavors, the Committee on Missions of the Conference is providing the following information from its annual report presented to the convention in Seattle (June 24-26, 2016).
One of the functions of the Committee on Missions is to survey the general circumstances of small congregations in our fellowship which request financial subsidy from the Conference and to make recommendation regarding such requests to the Conference at its conventions. The Committee’s purpose in this endeavor is to assist truly needy congregations chiefly in providing their pastors the funds to “live of the Gospel” as God Himself has “ordained” their support (I Corinthians 9:14), and also to use the Conference treasury in the wisest way for the extension of the Savior’s Kingdom.
When we who “know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ” (II Corinthians 8:9) have “opportunity” to “do good, …especially unto them who are of the household of faith” (Galatians 6:10), it is neither profitable for them, nor is it evidence to us or to others that we are in fact “the children of God by faith in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:26), merely to say to brethren in need, “‘Depart in peace; be ye warmed and filled,’ notwithstanding [we] give them not those things which are needful to the body,” James tells us in his general epistle chapter two, verse 16. Therefore, with the generous support of the Conference brethren, motivated by the Gospel (II Corinthians 5:14) to “bear…one another’s burdens and so [to] fulfill the Law of Christ” (Galatians 6:2) in our Christian sanctification to His glory, and assured of the Lord’s promise to grant us the ability to make good on our intentions (II Corinthians 9:8), we have been subsidizing three congregations of our fellowship, two of which are member-congregations stateside and one of which is a congregation in fellowship in far-off Russia.
• St. Mark’s Evangelical Lutheran Church, Sauk Village, Illinois – The members of St. Mark’s, by God’s grace alone, have this past year been blessed with many good and perfect blessings “from above” (James 1:17a), not the least of which is the desire, expressed in their recent letter to our committee, to work in the fear and love of God toward the goal of being self-supporting and no longer needing a Conference subsidy. They also expressed the desire “to help other congregations in our fellowship the way they have helped us.” To reflect their improving finances under the Lord’s blessings and working toward their goal of being supported by their own members, St. Mark’s requested for this coming fiscal year 13.33% less subsidy than last year. St. Mark’s has only thirteen communicant members, five voting members, and eleven households. That little flock raises the majority of its Pastor’s support by the freewill offerings of its people to the glory of God (I Corinthians 10:31), not to mention the funds needed to pay other regular expenses of the congregation. With the subsidy of the Conference, the congregation is able to salary its Pastor at a level that approximates the average household income of the members. In addition to the salary, the Pastor is provided rent-free housing, all utilities paid, for himself and his five young children. Thus in their careful stewardship of the Lord’s money, together with the subsidy they have requested, St. Mark’s supports its Pastor at the standard set by the Lord Himself in Luke 10:7. To God alone the glory! The Convention accepted the Committee’s recommended approval of the subsidy requested by St. Mark’s for fiscal year 2016-2017, and beseeches the Conference congregations to join in praying for the brethren’s continued blessings under the gracious hand of our loving and merciful God for Jesus’ sake.
• Good Shepherd Ev. Lutheran Church, Tucson, Arizona – Good Shepherd in Tucson has also been blessed by the Lord of the church in many ways during the past fiscal year. Attendance at worship services averages about 25 souls, and the members actively participate in the Bible Class and other opportunities for spiritual growth in grace and in the knowledge of God’s Word. The Pastor also has young people in a Confirmation class and adults under instruction preparatory for communicant membership. There are twelve households in the congregation, including twenty-two communicant members and eleven voting members. Two members are currently confined to nursing facilities. Approximately 30% of the Pastor’s support is derived from Conference subsidy. Housing is not provided by the congregation, but the Pastor and his wife were able recently to purchase a small home in the area in close proximity to the church. The congregation does provide cell phone service on a line that doubles as the Pastor’s phone and that of the church. The congregation has expressed its gratitude to the Conference brethren for their subsidy support and has requested subsidy in the same amount as last year to enable it to maintain the Pastor’s support at or around the average level of its members (Cf. Luke 10:7). The Committee heartily recommended that the Conference in convention assembled approve that amount for the coming fiscal year, and the recommendation was accepted. We ask the brethren’s continued fervent prayers to the Lord of the Church for His abundant blessing upon the Pastor, his family, and our sister congregation in Tucson.
• Orthodox Lutheran Church of Ekaterinburg, Ekaterinburg, Russia – This congregation has also enjoyed by God’s grace many blessings during the past fiscal year. The health of their Pastor has continued to improve so that he has, according to his monthly reports to your chairman, conducted all of the scheduled Sunday worship services and Bible classes during the past year, taught bi-weekly lectures at the local library, and visited his members in their homes. The congregation, according to its most recent profile, numbers twenty-nine communicants and nineteen voting members from eight households. Typical attendance at worship services, however, is only eleven souls, a situation that needs to be addressed in accordance with God’s Word (Third Commandment; Hebrews 10:25) for the spiritual welfare of His flock. The average household income is equivalent to only $ 13,000.00 U.S. per year, and Pastor’s income at present is supplied entirely by the Conference’s subsidy. The Pastor and his family live in a rented apartment NOT supplied by the congregation, although the church contributes approximately $ 50.00 per month toward the cost. A bit of good news from a financial standpoint: The Pastor’s indebtedness remaining from his medical issues and hospitalization several years back has been reduced considerably.
It is difficult for us to imagine the conditions in Russia under which a small Lutheran congregation of impoverished Christians must operate when the huge Russian Orthodox Church, with its political influence, is the state-favored religion; and we beg the Lord’s protection of this little flock under the cloud of discrimination and adversity that overshadows it (Luke 12:32).
Pastor Schurganoff has supplied the committee’s chairman with monthly reports throughout the year, as well as several sermons computer-translated into English. He also wrote and contributed an edifying article for the Concordia Lutheran on Hebrews 10:25 published in the May-June issue. If our people have not yet read it, we encourage them to do so.
During the past fiscal year, the Ekaterinburg congregation received from our Conference monthly subsidy as in previous years, including funds for the Pastor’s salary, toward reducing the medical debt of his family, and for the rental of the congregation’s worship facility. For the 2016-2017 Fiscal Year, the congregation requested from us the same subsidy as last year; and the convention, upon the committee’s recommendation, approved that amount.
We do want to include some information concerning our dear Nigerian brethren:
• During the summer of 2015, your chairman generated a brief questionnaire for the pastors in Nigeria to get some biographical information about them. Then, in the July–August Concordia Lutheran we published a thumbnail sketch of each pastor’s life together with a picture, so that all of our people stateside would be able to know something about them. If you have not read that issue, we would encourage you to do so.
• Sadly, on November 4th, Pastor Fyneface informed us that Pastor Onesimus Ekele of Lagos had left his congregation there, as well as the fellowship of the F.L.C.N., to join a Pentecostal group in the North Central State of Nigeria. His Anglican theological training and only a brief colloquy when he joined the F.L.C.N. did not serve the fellowship well. Moreover, the little congregation in Lagos had to dissolve because the government there did not permit it to meet in a residence, and rental of a public facility was financially prohibitive. Pastor Fyneface intended to meet with the remnant there to determine what they would be able to do.
• Later on in November, and then also in April, the Lord, in His infinite, gracious wisdom, removed from “the sufferings of this present time” into “the glory that shall be revealed in [all true believers]” (Romans 8:18) two of the Nigerian pastors, the Rev. Allenson Karibi Asawo, Pastor of St. Matthew’s Lutheran Church in Port Harcourt, on November 26th, and the Rev. Elison Bibi Agborubere, Pastor of Salem Lutheran Church in Abalama, on April 5th. A brief obituary for each of the men appeared in our Concordia Lutheran. These sudden losses were a blow to the congregations involved, first of all, but also to the entire Fellowship of Lutheran Congregations in Nigeria, and Pastor Fyneface in particular, who trained these faithful shepherds, who now are faced with filling those unexpected vacancies. We commit our sorrowing brethren into the comforting arms of the Savior, “the Resurrection and the Life” (John 11:25), in and through His precious Gospel, and pray the Lord of the harvest that, in His own best way and time, He will send forth more laborers into His harvest (Matthew 9:38).
• While the Conference itself has never been asked to provide financial subsidy to the Nigerian brethren, we did on particular occasions in the past take up special offerings to relieve them in times of special necessity; and our brethren at St. John’s in Lebanon have every several months or so sent generous contributions from their own congregation to relieve their wants and particular issues of indebtedness on the part of the pastors.
• Your chairman recently wrote Pastor Fyneface for an update on his health issues and for information about any special needs that the congregations there might have, and he replied very promptly by e-mail. He and his wife are holding up very well health-wise with the prescriptions given to them. However, they spend a lot on prescriptions; and with the economic inflation in Nigeria and the high cost of food stuffs and medication, they are facing hard times. Sadly, they lost their two pastors because of illnesses which, outside of Nigeria, could have been treated with medical care which we, stateside, take for granted: Malaria, hypertension and diabetes. Moreover, the sick in their hospitals are dying every day due to doctors’ strike actions and the people’s inability to afford the needed medication. Pastor Fyneface’s goiter problem still exists and is being managed. He is at present investigating the possibility of having the surgery necessary to relieve it done there in Nigeria. The congregations are doing fine according to Pastor Fyneface. He and the other pastors visit St. Paul’s in Kula and St. Matthew’s in Port Harcourt on occasion to serve those vacant flocks. He has prepared a time-table for them as to when they will be visiting them before the end of the year — which seems to indicate that the pastoral visits are not very frequent, nor are they on a consistent basis. He noted that the visiting will not be as regular as it should be due to the high cost of gasoline which that has made transportation fares to go up as well. He said that the churches are not being supported as before, due to non-payment of workers salaries for five months now and even more than five months in some states. (We don’t know whether this refers only to government workers or to workers in general who have either been laid off or simply not paid because of the depressed economy.) This has caused the churches’ failure to pay their pastors’ salaries. (This is, of course, of great concern to us, since the pastors may not have a livelihood.) Pastor Fyneface noted with gratitude that the brethren at St. John’s in Lebanon are indeed supporting them a lot, and that they truly appreciate them. He stated that they still need help with clearing outstanding debts, and that, for their new members, they are looking forward to the Bibles in the Kalabari language that Scriptural Publications has printed and is just about ready to ship to them.
Regarding the work of all our congregations, large or small, thriving or struggling, here at home or abroad, we commend ourselves — our bodies, our souls, and all things — into the hands of our merciful and gracious God in Christ Jesus, “who is able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think” (Ephesians 3:20), confidently declaring with St. Paul: “If God be for us, who can be against us? He that spared not His own Son but delivered Him up for us all, how shall He not with Him also freely give us all things?” (Romans 8:31b-32).
— Pastor David T. Mensing, Chairman
Committee on Missions